Traditional Japanese Formal Wear Explained

If you do not hold a considerable understanding of the Japanese culture, you may find yourself confused about the traditional attire that the Japanese wear.

In many cases, even people who have visited the country are not able to make the distinction between two of the most commonly worn pieces of clothing in the Japanese culture — the yukata and the kimono.

If you want to learn more about these traditional Japanese garments or want to purchase a set for yourself, it may be helpful to go through this guide that is designed to increase your knowledge about the yukata and the kimono.

kimono vs yukata

What Is the Difference Between a Kimono and Yukata?

In order to understand what is the difference between both these pieces of clothing, it is important to know what each entails. This is discussed below in some detail.

  • Kimono — This is the more formal of the two, usually being made of expensive materials like brocade, silk and others. The origin of this garment goes further back than the yukata. The kimono — where “ki” stands for “to wear” and “mono” means “thing” — has two different layers and two different collars.

The style of kimono that you choose will depend on the time of the year it is, for example, an unlined kimono for the hotter months and lined ones for the cooler periods of time.

For the winter, the kimono is padded for extra warmth. The style of the kimono may differ on the basis of what occasion you’ll be wearing it at or your social status (historically).

  • Yukata — If you are looking for a garment that is more easily accessible and cheaper to purchase, the yukata may be more suitable for you. Usually built using lighter materials like cotton, this garment is categorized as informal, which means that you don’t really need an occasion to whip out a yukata, which roughly translates to bathing cloth and is often referred to as a summer kimono.

As there is no limitation on what a yukata looks like, there is more of a chance to experiment with the kind of patterns, colors and styles that you can use for your yukata.

When Do You Wear a Kimono?

The kimono is made up of four different pieces of cloth that are put together to give a ‘T’ shape. There are many different folds that add a degree of formality to this garment.

The entire look comes together with an obi, which is a belt that secures the intricacy of the outfit. This makes the kimono ideal for formal occasions and ceremonies that need you to step out with your best foot forward.

While many people may not be able to tell the difference between a kimono and a yukata, a look at both these garments will be enough for you to understand why kimonos are more ideal for ceremonial events.

As the kimono is usually made up of multiple high-quality layers — often lined — it is more suitable for the cooler months of the year.


When Do You Wear a Yukata?

The yukata is usually much brighter than the kimono, as there is no restriction on what colors and patterns you can incorporate.

This traditional garment is worn for many different festive occasions, for example, parties, public events, festivals and more.

However, you might not want to wear the yukata for more formal occasions that call for a kimono, which has an overall more expensive appeal.

The yukata is more appropriate for the summers, as it is usually much lighter than the kimono.

Made using fabrics like cotton, which are more breathable and ideal for the hot summer, the yukata also works well for the times that you have stepped out of a bath as it is relatively quick drying.

If you are stepping out for a festival in Japan, you may want to look out for a synthetic yukata, which may help in keeping you dry.

shop yukata

Can Men Wear Yukata and Kimono?

The kimono and yukata are not gender specific, which means that they can be worn by both men and women.

While the kimono is more formal and therefore worn for ceremonial occasions by men and women, the yukata wasn’t always as widely worn by men but its convenience and comfort make it a popular option now.

One major difference between the kimono and yukata for men and women is the color palette that people choose.

For example, the kimono worn by women tend to be brighter or with deeper hues, while men opt for more muted tones.

Similarly, when it comes to the yukata, the male versions tend to be of darker colors and not as much variation in colors, while women tend to be more bold with their choices in patterns and colors when it comes to yukata.

There may also be more variations to the kimono and yukata when it is worn by men.

Things to Know

While the kimono is a term that is widely used to describe the traditional Japanese attire, there are many different types of kimono that are available.

Some interesting forms are the semi-formal homongi, the more casual tsukesage, the Kuro-Tomesode that is worn by married women at formal occasions, the Iro-Tomesode that is worn by unmarried women at similar occasions and more.

There are multiple designs available for purchase, which can sometimes baffle you about what works and what does not.

If you are confused about whether the yukata or the kimono is more suitable for your requirements, there are a couple of questions you must ask yourself.

First, what time of the year are you planning to wear it? If it’s going to be quite hot and you want to stay cool, the yukata may be the better option for you as the kimono tends to be heavier and warmer.

Second, what is the occasion that you’ll be wearing the garment for? If it is a ceremonial occasion, a kimono may be more suitable, but the yukata will work better for parties and festivals!

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